Riots: Police defend handling of crisis after criticism


Sir Hugh Orde: "The home secretary has been quite outstanding"

Police chiefs have defended their handling of this week's riots despite criticism from the prime minister.

Association of Chief Police Officers president Sir Hugh Orde rejected suggestions that the restoration of calm was due to political intervention.

Acting Met Police commissioner Tim Godwin said comments were being made by people "who weren't there".

David Cameron said police did make mistakes over numbers and tactics - but also praised the bravery of officers.

Mr Godwin denied police had been too "timid" in their initial response to the riots on Saturday - but he said that "if police officers had the benefit of hindsight as foresight we would obviously do things slightly differently".

Ministers and police chiefs have clashed over who was responsible for bringing about a surge in police numbers on the streets of London from 6,000 on Monday to 16,000 on Tuesday.

Politicians 'irrelevant'

Mr Cameron returned from holiday on Monday night and called an urgent meeting of emergencies committee Cobra.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the prime minister had been "very much in charge" of that meeting.

At the heart of the row is the question of operational independence.

Senior officers value their right to decide tactics without political interference above almost anything else. Set priorities, agree strategy, hold us to account, they say, but don't meddle in what we do on the ground.

The formula works when the going's good - but when it's as tough as it has been this week the tensions between police and politicians are all too evident.

The issue of operational independence has added meaning because the government is pressing ahead with plans for directly-elected officials to oversee police forces in England and Wales. Elections are due to be held next year.

Police are largely against the idea, fearing greater political interference with candidates promising more on policing than can be delivered at a time of budget cuts.

But Sir Hugh - who is seen as a leading contender to become the next Met Police commissioner - told the BBC that the subsequent restoration of calm on Tuesday night had not been down to political intervention.

"The fact that politicians chose to come back [from holiday] is an irrelevance in terms of the tactics that were by then developing," he told BBC Two's Newsnight.

"The more robust policing tactics you saw were not a function of political interference; they were a function of the numbers being available to allow the chief constables to change their tactics."

Senior police sources have told the BBC that plans to increase officer numbers in London were well advanced before the Cobra meeting on Tuesday.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw has learned that Scotland Yard made several calls to the Police National Information Co-ordination Centre on Monday requesting additional support.

Home Secretary Theresa May said she spoke by conference call to all police chiefs on Wednesday and "ordered that all special constables should be mobilised, all police leave should be cancelled and the robust tactics used on Tuesday by the Metropolitan Police adopted by all forces dealing with public disorder".

But Sir Hugh said she had "no power whatsoever" do that - and decisions about staffing were a matter for force commanders.

'Vital distinction'

He later denied there was any rift with the government and said the home secretary had given him "quite outstanding" support.

"She has praised police officers. She understands the complexity of the world in which we live and I think she very clearly understands that we cannot get it right all the time," he said.

"But let's be very clear on one thing - the vital distinction between policing and politics remains. The police service will make the tactical decisions, and quite rightly and robustly, we should and must be held to account [by politicians]."

Richard Mannington Bowes

Mrs May also sought to play down any suggestion that the government's was seeking to take credit for restoring calm, insisting: "What I accept is that the people who got the riots under control were the police."

The prime minister said police chiefs took the decision to increase officer numbers and change tactics, and the Cobra meeting helped commanders "by showing there was political backing for the changes they wanted to make".

But Police Federation vice-chairman Simon Reed said the suggestion that police had changed their approach after the government stepped in was "a cheap shot" - and Sir Hugh was "clearly upset".


"It's a slight on the professionalism of the police service and the rank and file because some of the language, some of the tone used, was that they were too timid - almost that they weren't brave enough.

"Rank and file officers will be very upset about those comments because these were unprecedented levels of violence that we saw."

Ian Hanson, chairman of the Greater Manchester Police Federation, also said it was "disingenuous of politicians to say that they [had] sorted the problems out".

Labour have said the riots show that planned cuts to police budgets - and in turn, officer numbers - should be abandoned.

Shadow Home Office minister Vernon Coaker told the BBC the government should be given the same sort of protection from spending cuts as the health and education sectors.

And he accused David Cameron and Theresa May of "playing politics" with policing and trying to "take the credit for tough and correct action taken by the police while at the same time trying to pass the buck for any criticisms back to them".

The Police Federation said that if the riots had happened in a year's time - with "10 or 12,000 fewer officers" - police would not have been able to mobilise resources in the way they have done this week.

But during Thursday's debate, the prime minister insisted the cuts were "totally achievable" without any reduction in the visible policing presence and said that a "surge" of officers - as seen in recent days - would still be possible in future.

In other developments:


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  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    132. PFC_Kent

    David Horton
    who voted Labour three times in a row.
    'historically there have been more UK riots due to the tories
    implementing policies keeping people down on the ground
    -such as poll tax, brixton, student riots,'

    "Which just goes to show that when Labour lose they resort to rioting. They are fundamentally undemocratic".

    Are you saying it was Labour who were rioting?

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    They are probably both right.

    Theresa May almost certainly did instruct the police to get more police on the streets and be more robust. As Home Secretary, I would expect her to.

    Ord is probably right that she doesn't have the absolute power to make such an order but it would be a very stupid Chief Constable who would ignore the wishes of his ultimate boss.

    Does Ord want to retire early?

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    With regard to police numbers and those available for work.. The Met run a 3 shift system on a 24/7 basis, so with a total compliment of say 32000 - only a third are on duty at any one time - and out of that one has to take out those who are on leave, sick, etc., so the 32000 available is a bit of a myth. Speaking as a former Met officer - as always, the police are "too thin on the ground" .

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    There are many reasons behind the outbreaks this week & searching for a particular one will make the governtment go round in even more circles & combined with known facts that meaningless punishment will be meted out to the purpetrators if caught .are why riots erupted This is the price for successive years of do gooders policies giving criminals and thugs more rights than victims.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    Pevvy78............You have hit the 'nail on the head', I couldn't agree with you more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    students get nuff debt over £50K for Uni which would cause anyone to be bankrupt, (except for rich git tories where pater caters)
    and there are no jobs for grads in the brave new world

    We want free education for the youths like we had back in the day when UK had best education and health care system in the world

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    I have to disagree with both Sir Hugh AND the government.

    From my viewpoint neither anything the government said NOR the 'more robust policing' quelled the riots. What good were the 16,000 police in London to the people of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol etc., on Tuesday night?
    Apart from the greater numbers of police, I saw no real difference in their actions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    the police on the front line restored calm.they needed the reassurance from the politicians that they wouldn't be prosecuted should they use their truncheons.
    personally I would not have the courage to be brave enough to hold the line.
    they deserve our full support as do the parents of the rioters that took them to the police stations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    Yet again this government is hiring a consultant in the shape of supercop from LA. How much is that exercise costing? Has David Cameron really looked around among the 'home grown' talent in our own police forces before going overseas ? We did not see that contract going out to tender ?
    Our hard working police must feel utterly insulted by this. I thought the use of consultants where frozen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    The weather

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Mr. Cameron wants to use the LA policing model? They have 2 and half times the muders that London has with almost a 3 times smaller population than London. Not sure their model is working Mr. Cameron??

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    In the south west (devon, cornwall, dorset) where there are plenty of unemployed , low paid jobs and that region does not have a diverse ethnicity.

    Yet no Riots!

    Personally i think these so calles diverse areas are just a hot bed of volatility and a negative to the cohesion of England.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    Somehow, this country's attitude to people who choose, wilfully, to break the law has got to change. These kids do this sort of thing every weekend in parts of London, Manchester etc., but just on a much smaller scale. & they always get away with it.
    It's time to let the police do their job (keeping the peace!) without fear of being sued, fired or having to keep health and safety regs in mind

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    Sir Hugh applying for that job? I think he must have changed his mind. Not only would he have to work with Ms. May he'd have to co-exist with Boris and they have conflicting views! On day one of the riot response, there are differing police stories: in the Midlands half a dozen officers mostly without riot gear broke up a mob of over 50 by charging into them. In London riot police backed off!

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    Neither politicians or police chiefs stopped the rioting.

    ------ IT WAS THE WEATHER -------

    Those talking now are just posturing.
    To keep their well paid jobs.
    To make themselves look important.
    But we all know it was the weather that did it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    When a chief constable states on radio that the main concern of officers is their personal safety memories of 7/7 spring to mind a similar critism was levelled then, It is a good job we have a fantastic Army who when they leave the compound each day do not know whats in store for them but go anyway, luckily not all officers stood by.Do we need 10+ officers to arrest a looter at home?

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    -such as poll tax, brixton, student riots, etc
    Which just goes to show that when Labour lose they resort to rioting. They are fundamentally undemocratic.
    Sir / Madam
    Are you only using half your brain
    poll tax, resentments in brixton, and student cuts were due to same ole dirty tory policy
    designed to make the people lose (not labour)
    and it was the people who rioted (not labour)

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    IMHO the initial feebleness of the police is down to the politicians, the Courts and us! We, as a nation, must urge the Courts and politicians to let the police do their jobs without fear of recrimination later. It's no wonder that middle/senior ranking police officers didn't order the ranks to get stuck in initially. They and the ranks would have been criticised for it. This is a wake up call!

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    46 Minutes ago
    The Bankers have done immeasurably more damage and not one is in court for their actions WHY"
    For the same reason that the Bulligdon Club can wreck restaurants without anyone pressing charges. Grease the right palms with enough money and, hey presto, problem resolved.

    Haven't enough cash for that?? You're nicked my son.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    the UK has been known for peace but when they go violent its always hell. Cameron is got to sit up.


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